The Monuments Men of Fashion

Gus Franklyn-Bute Editor-in-Chief | Anthony Best Lifestyle Editor

ACU|BIEN examines Masculinity, Sexuality and Gender motifs in fashion and asks: Does what a man wear express or alter his masculinity? Caribbean (Barbados) photographer Adrian Richards captures “The Monuments Men of Fashion” during London Fashion Week LCM SS15.

The Monuments Men of Fashion

The parade of leading-edge urban, street and distinctive menswear styles that orbit the public courtyard of Somerset House during London Fashion Week’s London Collection Men (LCM) makes the event the real deal, unique even. Despite what Miranda Priestley (The Devil Wears Prada) may have declared, fashion and style is frequently a democratic, irrefutable choice, an act of self-expression and defiance of individuality which at times is punctuated with audacity. Collectively, designers, curators, advocates, editors and these ‘off runway’ disruptors of style form the Monuments Men of Fashion.


London Fashion Week LCM SS15 | Credit: Adrian Richards Photography

Hypermasculinity in florals and furs

The convergence during London Fashion Week | London Collection Men of Y chromosomes groomed and draped in prints, florals, furs and even a fox, fabulously blurs gender stereotypes and sexuality and forces a re-examination of what are acceptable codes of masculinity. These Monuments Men of Fashion push the boundaries of race, culture and identity – none more so than for black men and youths of African, Caribbean and African-American communities who are often, wrongly or rightly, characterised by varying taxonomies of hypermasculinity. Photographer, Adrian Richard says “that with current trends incorporating prints, such as floral and with pieces such as skirts and unshaped drapery, this further add to the conundrum.

Black men in fear, denial and erotic worship


London Fashion Week LCM SS15 | Credit: Adrian Richards Photography

Black men and youths are born and raised into a culture where their sense of identity haemorrhages from infestations of “fear”, “denial” and “erotic worship” – side-effects of yawning lacerations from the double-edged sword of slavery/colonialism and the incoherence of manifold Christian doctrines. The narrative of black hypermasculinity is often attributed to ruthless physical and psychological emasculation throughout history sponsored by agencies of state, crown, church, and commerce. Black men were caught in a conflating intersection of the ‘mandingo’ persona and reduction to ‘boy’, ‘nigga’ identity.


London Fashion Week LCM SS15 | Credit: Adrian Richards Photography

It was, and still is, to fashion that black men turned to express individuality and proclaim their masculine persona. After six days of toiling and sweating in cotton, sugar and tobacco plantations in dirty, tattered Osnaburg slave clothes, a day off was the only opportunity to preen and parade donning their ‘Sunday best’. Wilbert L. Cooper’s excellent article “Power” ( March 3, 2014) touches on these realities.

Straddling lines like “Willie Dynamite”

For decades, as black men wrestled insecurity and denigration by asserting their identity through fashion, monikers have been coined to characterise this masculinity, sexual prowess, coolness and style. The black man has been the saga boy, homeboy, the dude, nigga, superfly, gangster, cat, pimp, and dawg. The 1970s is arguably the pinnacle era when lines between masculinity, gender characteristics and fashion were most blurred. A casual probe through Blaxploitation movies from the era offers a superb biopic on the subject. The film Willie Dynamite (1974), starring Roscoe Orman and Diana Sands is one of the best examples of straddled lines of masculinity, femininity, sexuality, power and gender motifs in the fashion palates and swagger of black men.

In music too, black male entertainers celebrated their fashion styling as they acted out talents: American soul-funk band Cameo’s lead, Larry Blackmon, famously wore a red codpiece over black tights; Prince and his androgynous style and makeup have never really raise an eyebrow from an adoring and respectful public, and was in fact tightly embraced; “you never saw more eyeliner on a black man than Little Richard”, says Anthony Best; and James Brown’s ‘straightened’ hair and flamboyant fashion were seen as just part of his identity – his sexuality was never in question.

Caribbean People: Clinging to superior, outdated ethics

London Fashion Week LCM SS15 | Credit: Adrian Richards Photography

London Fashion Week LCM SS15 | Credit: Adrian Richards Photography

With Caribbean nations for the most part having been artificially forged through superior notions of victorian values of the 3 C’s: Colonialism, Christianity and Cricket, it is no surprise that Caribbean men, and indeed women, continue to live in unfettered denial, in fear and insecurity of the ‘other’ – clinging desperately to outmoded principles of what is masculine, not least in fashion – a democratic form of self-expression. While these fucked up ethics have their roots in Europe, that region has itself been modifying its rational and advancing its moral codes by re-calibrating, de-labelling and encouraging individual freedom of expression,  creativity, and co-existence.  The overwhelming outcome of national referendum on gay marriage in a very Catholic Ireland is a recent example.

Richards further adds that “this is a useful discussion, as I feel that CARIBBEAN men are socialized to be peacocks, yet seem to have issues in being expressive due to fear about being perceived as being gay.

Caribbean region: Living contraction, society of hypocrites

It is frequently argued that Caribbean people are a living contradiction and a society of hypocrites. From island to island men have always straddled the gender line as they openly throw on ornate costumes and paint and glitter their bodies during carnival season – outfits suitable for a Victoria Secrets annual showcase. Yet, any man judged to be dressed ‘too femininely’ run the risk of attack, ridicule or abuse. In ‘fag hating’ Jamaica, men have been bleaching their skin and readily adopting homo-esque fashion trends from low-hanging jeans that sport fat ass cleavages and fake designer underwear, to now wearing the tightest skinny jeans. Anthony Best adds that “pants can’t get any tighter in Jamaica. You see more straight guys’ asses than gays on the street.” These non-traditional ways of dressing proves that even in hyper-homophobic and machismo Caribbean masculinity is indeed fluid.

London Fashion Week LCM SS15 | Credit: Adrian Richards Photography

London Fashion Week LCM SS15 | Credit: Adrian Richards Photography

Masculinity, Sexuality, Homophobia and Ancestry

London Fashion Week LCM SS15 | Credit: Adrian Richards Photography

London Fashion Week LCM SS15 | Credit: Adrian Richards Photography

Vicious attacks and homophobia has less to do with masculinity, gender functions and sexual roles and more to do with this fear, insecurity and weakness, particularly among communities still struggling with hangover of from a history of de-humanisation. The nail gripping adherence to out-dated codes of masculinity gives no homage or respect to African and Amerindian ancestors who were no less a people for wearing tribal attire, at times naked, baring genitals and all. Indeed, it was the male of the species who often wore the most elaborate ceremonial garb in peacock fashion – perhaps these are original Monuments Men of Fashion.

To further paraphrase James Baldwin, like Wilbert L. Cooper, ‘people are trapped in anachronistic notions of masculinity and this masculinity is trapped in them